Vonda Donaldson Berry
Friends and relatives of a woman killed and dumped off a bridge into Watauga Lake last year can’t wear their “Justice for Vonda” shirts and buttons at court hearings for the man charged.
Criminal Court Judge Stacy Street made the ruling Friday in a motion hearing for Steven Odell Bennett.
Bennett, 32, of Johnson City, is charged with first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse. Johnson City police investigators say Bennett killed Vonda Donaldson Berry on Sept. 29, then wrapped her body in a motorcycle tarp and threw it off the Butler Bridge in Carter County.
Donaldson’s body was found in the lake near the bridge several days later by Johnson City and Carter County officials.
According to police, Donaldson was strangled to death. Bennett told police he and Donaldson had sex the night she died and he had put a belt around her neck to restrict her oxygen. Bennett told investigators he didn’t mean to kill Donaldson.
He was arrested the day after Donaldson’s death at a mobile home park in Johnson City and had Donaldson’s car. Police said there was something that appeared to be blood on Bennett’s pants and in the trunk of the car.
At court hearings for Bennett, Donaldson’s friends and family have worn items with Donaldson’s photograph and the phrase “Justice for Vonda.”
Defense attorneys filed a motion in April asking the judge to restrict that because it could influence potential jurors.
Street ruled those items cannot be worn anywhere in the courthouse.
In another motion, Street ruled the pathologist who performed Donaldson’s autopsy must turn over any professional articles or publications she used to help make determinations about what happened to Donaldson.
That motion came about after attorneys interviewed Dr. Dawn Lajoie and she told them she used those types of materials to help her draw conclusions in the case.
Bennett remains jailed under $100,000 bond. He has another court hearing scheduled in November.